church militant

The Church Militant: Fighting The Good Fight

The Church, the Mystical Body, exists on this earth, and is called the Church militant, because its members struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. Fr. William G. Most

It is hard to argue with this vision of the Church. For any Catholic who has a modicum of sense, the struggle (as they say) is real. For some, persecution or the threat of persecution is a daily horror. Refugees from Syria, for instance, tell of losing their entire families. Egyptian men kneel before religious extremists and lose their lives as they proclaim their faith in Christ. In the U.S., we watch as the government appears to bully a group of Catholic sisters whose mission is to care for the dying poor, those who have no place else to go. And on a personal level, we all seem to have a family member or a loved one who has turned their back on the Faith, or someone who appears to hate the Church.

Yes, it certainly seems like a war to stay hopeful in the promises of Christ. The days are long, the battles hard. We carry our crosses, we pray. We rejoice in fellowship, and we console others in sorrow. At night, we lay down our burdens and examine our consciences, so that tomorrow, we may have the strength to do fight again.

Vietnamese Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan was imprisoned his government for 13 years. He spent 9 of those years in solitary confinement. Yet, reading his words, one hears and sees only hope.

After his release, Pope John Paul II asked the Cardinal if he would give a Lenten retreat at the Vatican. The Cardinal chose the theme of “hope.” Imagine, a man whose freedom was taken from him, who spoke only to his captors for 9 years, still chose “hope.” It was from this Lenten retreat that his book, Testimony of Hope, was born.

Even within the very limited existence Cardinal Van Thuan had in prison, he focused on his work as a spiritual leader and as a follower of Christ. At one point, he expressed his ideas on love. Love, he said, must consist of six things:

  1. Love first.
  2. Love everyone.
  3. Love enemies.
  4. Love by giving your life.
  5. Love by service.

How, one might ask, is a soldier of Christ, a member of the Church militant, to go about loving one’s enemies? Cardinal Van Thuan tells of a conversation with one of the guards assigned to him.

“Do you love us?”

“Yes, I love you.”

“But we have kept you in prison for so many years, without a trial, without a sentence, and you love us? That’s impossible! Perhaps it’s not true!”

“I’ve been with you for many years, you’ve seen that it’s true.”

“When you are free, won’t you send  your faithful to burn our homes, to kill our families?”

“No! Even if you want to kill me, I love you.”

“But why?”

“Because Jesus has taught me to love everyone, even my enemies. If I don’t, I am no longer worthy to be called a Christian.”

“It’s very beautiful, but very hard to understand.”

This is the essence of the Church Militant: to know what God wants of us, to set out to do that very thing and to love all we encounter with the love of Christ, even our enemies, our persecutors, our tormentors. This is a hard lesson, and (as Cardinal Van Thuan’s jailer said) very hard to understand. It is not a “mushy” or sentimental love. It is a love that stands its post, that follows the orders of the leader, that fights for what is right and true and good. However, it is a love whose weapon is the Cross, a weapon that is not wielded in anger and bitterness. No, it is a weapon that is planted before the enemy in love.

The Church Militant is an army of the followers of Christ, who teaches us sacrifice and love, even under the most bitter and harshest of circumstances. May we always have the grace to do battle with evil, with the Cross and the love of Christ Jesus as our weapons.